Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is admitting that he's worried about Afghanistan. I'm not convinced we are winning it in Afg
September 10, 2008

DOD Afghanistan

Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is admitting that he's worried about Afghanistan.

I'm not convinced we are winning it in Afghanistan. I am convinced we can," Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in sobering testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee nearly seven years after U.S.-led forces toppled Afghanistan's former Taliban regime following the September 11 attacks.

Mullen said he was already "looking at a new, more comprehensive strategy for the region" that would cover both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

"In my view, these two nations are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them," he told lawmakers.

"We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan ... but until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming."

..."Add to this a poor and struggling Afghan economy, a still-healthy narcotics trade there and a significant political uncertainty in Pakistan, and you have all the makings of a complex, difficult struggle that will take time," he said.

He also warned that time was running out on the ability of the West to provide Afghanistan with vital nonmilitary assistance for Afghanistan including roads, schools, alternative crops for farmers and the rule of law.

"These are the keys to success in Afghanistan. We cannot kill our way to victory and no armed force anywhere, no matter how good, can deliver these keys alone," Mullen said.

That's pretty straight talk and is probably a result of commander's sense of frustration with the White House. Bush short-changed the commanders on the ground in Afghanistan, letting them have less additional troops than they'd asked for and later than they'd asked for them. And Mullen's words are an implicit endorsement of Obama's plan for the region.

The greatest threat to that security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike into Afghanistan. We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as President, I won’t. We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO to secure the border, to take out terrorist camps, and to crack down on cross-border insurgents. We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.

Make no mistake: we can’t succeed in Afghanistan or secure our homeland unless we change our Pakistan policy. We must expect more of the Pakistani government, but we must offer more than a blank check to a General who has lost the confidence of his people. It’s time to strengthen stability by standing up for the aspirations of the Pakistani people. That’s why I’m cosponsoring a bill with Joe Biden and Richard Lugar to triple non-military aid to the Pakistani people and to sustain it for a decade, while ensuring that the military assistance we do provide is used to take the fight to the Taliban and al Qaeda. We must move beyond a purely military alliance built on convenience, or face mounting popular opposition in a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror and radical Islam.

Obama, for his part, replied to Bush's day-late-and-dollar-short announcement by saying "His plan comes up short -- it is not enough troops, and not enough resources, with not enough urgency," while John McCain simply praised Bush's shortchanging of the region.

And other military commanders are being almost as straightforward as Mullen in voicing their displeasure.

"To protect the 10 million Afghans, plus the three or so million that are in Kabul, given the numbers that we have here, they just don't work out totally," Major General Jeffrey Schloesser, the number two US commander in Afghanistan, told reporters on Friday.

"You know, it's very difficult for us to be able to do that, given the numbers we have, given the terrain we have," he said.

US forces are not losing the war, but it is "a slow win," Schloesser said.

...Schloesser said there were areas of his sector of eastern Afghanistan where he had "very low numbers of troops."

"I can come in and I can clobber the enemy, but then I can't hold it and stay with the people," he said.

As have military analysts.

Anthony Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, observed that the Taliban and other insurgent groups have dramatically expanded their presence in Afghanistan since 2004.

Declassified US intelligence and UN maps show that the area of Taliban and insurgent influence or presence doubled between 2004 and 2005, quadrupled between 2005 and 2006, and rose sharply again between 2006 and 2007, Cordesman said.

"At this point in time, US-NATO/ISAF-Afghan forces are simply too weak to deal with a multi-faceted insurgency with a de facto sanctuary along the entire Afghan-Pakistan border," Cordesman wrote in a paper posted on the CSIS website.

Even the military acknowledges it - a vote for McCain's continuation of Bush's failed policy in the region is a vote to lose the war in Afghanistan by slow attrition of troops' lives and national treasure. On Wednesday, the Obama campaign underlined that in a press statement:

"Today, while John McCain's dishonorable campaign was peddling phony outrage and false advertisements, the United States military confirmed what Barack Obama has been saying for years: we need more troops and a new strategy to win the war against the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. The American people have a clear choice between Barack Obama's serious focus on confronting terrorism, and John McCain's focus on lipstick and a pig," said Wendy Morigi, national security spokesperson.

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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